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Empire and information: intelligence gathering and social communication in India, 1780–1870. By C. A. Bayly. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pp. xiv+412. £40.00. ISBN 0-521-57085-9.

  • JOHN LENNARD (a1)

Abstract

For the interdisciplinarian, Anglo-Indian historiography can be frustrating. In working on Paul Scott's Raj quartet (four profoundly historical novels about Anglo-India, 1942–7, better known as TV's The jewel in the crown) I have faced such questions as: whether it is reasonable to believe that in 1947 a senior British police officer who owned Pathan clothes and brown make-up used them professionally, passing as an Indian to gather intelligence; what credence the officer's probable homosexuality gives an alternative explanation, that cultural transvestism and Indian guise served private sexual rather than public professional ends; and whether the resonances with Thuggee in the costumed and made-up officer's murder by strangulation (in a Muslim-ruled, Hindu-majority, not-yet-acceded princely state in late July 1947) are of any historical merit. But the archetypes in which writers of fiction can combine scope and particularity are unavailable to the historian, too often confined to the dense and satisfying footnotery of the local study claimed as typical, or happily wandering the open generalizations of the all-India history claimed as exemplary; and for the critic wishing to test the historical probity of a fiction the result is Hobson's choice between easily-found but tangential treatments, and trawling memoirs for the reticent implications of conventional Anglo-Indian understatement.

Copyright

Empire and information: intelligence gathering and social communication in India, 1780–1870. By C. A. Bayly. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pp. xiv+412. £40.00. ISBN 0-521-57085-9.

  • JOHN LENNARD (a1)

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